What Constitutes Proof in Ape Language Studies?

What constitutes proof in ape language studies? How would you go about proving that an ape has acquired language? The truth is that nobody knows. Many people will tell you what doesn't constitute proof, but the scientific community has not agreed on a standard, that if met, would definitively prove that an ape has acquired language.

Writing on this topic, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Stuart Shanker and Talbot Taylor had this to say: "...[I]f at the end of extensive experimental research, a reputable research team proposes a definitive answer [to one of the key questions in ape language research] ... there are no agreed methods by which the scientific community can determine whether that conclusion is or is not well-founded." (Apes Language and the Human Mind 1998. 142.)

The problem of proving that an ape has acquired language is not really different in theory from the problem of proving that a human being has acquired language. And in fact, some human beings face a similar fight for the recognition of their own independent communication. Those are the people who use assisted communication.

As long as they use their articulatory apparatus to speak out loud, most people enjoy the benefit of the presumption that they are in fact speaking, and not just making noises that sound like speech. People with normal speech don't have to prove anything. But for those with neural damage that prevents them from having normal control over their movements, the path to recognition that they do understand language and are able to use it is a difficult one. The controversy surrounding facilitated communication still rages.

In this hub I will explain the problem and offer some unconventional examples that I believe ought to be considered as proof, both in the case of humans and of apes.

In the sixties and early seventies there was a lot of research into non-humans and language ability. Many of the subjects of these experiments were apes, although research was also conducted with other animals, such as parrots and dolphins.

One of the most successful projects of this period was the work of Beatrice and Allen Gardner with a female chimpanzee by the name of Washoe. Washoe was brought up in a human home, using a method called cross-fostering. She was taught American Sign Language and acquired an impressive vocabulary that she could use in context to express her wishes, desires and opinions.

Herbert Terrace attempted a similar experiment with a male chimpanzee whom he named Nim Chimpsky, after the famous linguist, Noam Chomsky. Like the Gardners, it was Terrace's intention to raise Nim in a human home and to teach him sign language. However, Nim's early experiences were very different from Washoe's. For one thing, Terrace did not volunteer to adopt Nim himself. He was an unmarried man, and he did not feel up to the challenge of raising a baby chimpanzee by himself. Instead, he asked a former research assistant of his to adopt Nim into her home. However, conflicts concerning parenting methodology and other matters arose, and Nim was abandoned by his adoptive mother at an early age and brought up by a whole string of different assistants, none of whom served as the central figure in Nim's life. Deprived of a stable family life, Nim experienced attachment issues very similar to those that human children deal with when they are denied a strong relationship with a reliable parent.

Terrace was also dealing with serious funding issues. Bringing up a chimpanzee in your own home does not cost more than bringing up a human child, assuming you are willing to be a stay-at-home parent and supervise all day long. However, Terrace was not bringing up Nim in his home. He needed a special place for Nim to stay which was not anybody's home, and he had to pay people to stay with Nim, and it was very expensive. Terrace also believed, as a scientist, that every waking moment of Nim's life had to be documented, either on film or in copious research notes, and this was very expensive, too. Eventually, Terrace gave up because he was unable to find sufficient funding, and the return on his investment in Project Nim seemed too low compared to the trouble that Nim was getting into.

Nim was sent back from New York to the place of his birth in Oklahoma, and he was forced to deal with very harsh conditions and to face the unpleasant realization that as a chimpanzee in a human society he had no rights. At one point, he was sold into medical research, and although many campaigned for his release, incuding Terrace, his remaining life was pretty bleak. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend the biography written by Elizabeth Hess.

(Washoe also ended up in the same facility from which she was taken as an infant, but she was lucky to have Roger Fouts, an assistant and student of the Gardners', with her, and he saw to it that her experience was not as stressful as Nim's nor nearly as lonely.)

About the same time that Nim returned to Oklahoma, Terrace began to review the tapes of Nim signing. He came to the conclusion that Nim was not using language spontaneously to express himself. It seemed to him that Nim was signing to please his trainers. Terrace published his conclusions, and then what happened was this: all researchers working in animal communication were invited to a conference which retrospectively is known as The Clever Hans Conference. There, not only was Nim Chimpsky denounced, but it was suggested that Washoe, and all other animals engaged in language experiments, were also not actually using language. They were all compared to Clever Hans, a German horse who had used cues from humans in order to answer math questions correctly. In 1907 it had been discovered that Clever Hans could answer questions correctly only when the human with him knew the answer and Hans could see the human. Now it was being suggested that the same sort of cuing was going on in all animal language experiments.

I quote from Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin: "For some time during the mid-1970s, Thomas Seobok , a linguist at Indiana University, had bee expressing strongly negative views on ape language research. And in May 1980 he organized a conference under the auspices of the New York Academy of Sciences, which made his position brutally clear. The conference was called 'The Clever Hans Phenomenon: Communications with Horses, Whales, Apes and People'. ... There was even a move, fortunately thwarted, to have the conference vote for a ban on the research. At a press conference at the end of the meeting, Sebeok expressed his views most stridently of all: 'In my opinion, the alleged language experiments with apes divide into three groups: one, outright fraud; two, self-deception; three, those conducted by Terrace.'" (Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind,1994, p.50-51.)

Many researchers in animal language experiments lost their funding following the Clever Hans Conference. Others persisted. Irene Pepperberg found novel ways of funding her work with Alex the Parrot. Francine Patterson went on working with Koko the gorilla. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh continued to work with chimpanzees and bonobos.

While working with a parrot who speaks, as does Pepperberg, one is less obviously subject to the accusation of cuing, because clearly nobody is telling Alex which vowels and consonants to put together in what sequence in order to answer the questions that Irene Pepperberg poses. If the social contact with Pepperberg is giving Alex any sort of clues, it might be on the content of his answer, but not its linguistic form.

Irene Pepperberg and Alex

Parrots are lucky in that their articulatory apparatus, while quite different from ours, is capable of producing comprehensible speech. The other great apes are not able to produce speech that humans can comprehend. That is why alternative methods of communication, such as sign language or lexigrams, have to be used. The moment it's not audible, the researcher opens himself up to the accusation that not just the answer itself, but also its linguistic form, is being cued.

It's one thing to be able to determine that the green key is the bigger one. It's quite another to know how to say "green" in response to a question like "which color bigger?". Even if Alex could somehow tell that Irene thought the green key was bigger (maybe by the way she was looking at it), she can hardly be accused by her body language to have caused Alex to move his vocal tract in such a way as to produce the word "green." Also, she cannot have clued him into the fact that green was a color. So clearly he knows what the word "green" stands for, and he knows what the word "color" stands for. And he knows that the question "which color?" requires an answer that is a color. All of this is very big in and of itself! And really, in a study about linguistic ability, who cares if a parrot is good at estimating sizes?

I'm not saying that I doubt in the slightest that Alex knew that the green key was bigger. I'm convinced in the validity of the entire demonstration. But the point, for purposes of standards of proof, is that it doesn't matter if Alex gave the right answer without cuing. He's demonstrated his linguistic competence, either way!

With apes who use lexigrams, the whole process is considered more suspect, because if the researcher inadvertently looks at the right lexigram for the answer, this might be a cue for the subject, not just for picking out the right answer, but also for picking out the right word to stand for the answer. Because of this, researchers in ape language studies are expected to conduct double blind tests, where neither the human nor the subject know the question or the answer. Many ingenious methods have to be found to minimize cuing.

In the following clip, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is wearing a welder's mask to minimize cues to Kanzi about what she expects him to do as she gives him novel requests to comply with. Kanzi has never heard these sentences before. This is evidence of comprehension of English syntax.

Kanzi and Sue and Novel Sentences

Notice how patient both Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Kanzi have to be in order to go through the entire list of novel sentence for purposes of proof. Clearly, Kanzi understands what he is told to do. Equally clearly, after a few tries, this exercise gets really old for both of them. They have to keep going, because they have set themselves this artificial task for the purpose of winning points with the scientific community.

In the following clip, Kanzi is asked to point at lexigrams for the words pronounced by a researcher who is not in the room. Kanzi hears the request through headphones, so Sue, who is in the room with him, will not know what he is being asked, and therefore will be unable to clue him in to the right answer.

Sue doesn't hear the question when Kanzi chooses the answer

When I watch these clips, the first thing that strikes me is how patient Kanzi is. Yes, he knows his lexigrams, and he understands English. But what is truly amazing to me is that he'll sit still through these really unchallenging tests without protest!

Kanzi is a bonobo, and he's a unique individual, too. I really admire both him and Sue for their patience and perseverance.

My adopted son Bow is a common chimpanzee. While I believe he is just as smart as Kanzi, I have to admit that he's a lot more stubborn and much less cooperative.

Bow started spelling out words in the summer of 2007 at the age of five and a half years. Up to that point, we were using lexigrams in Hebrew and English, but we made little progress, because Bow pointed faster than we were able to see. Then Bow started taking our hands and using them as pointing devices, making sure we took in what he was pointing at before proceeding further. From pointing at words in standard spelling he went on the spell out words by pointing at letters. His achievement is remarkable. There is just one problem: proof.

How do we know that with the physical contact between us during the process of pointing, we are not inadvertently cuing Bow as to what to say and how to say it?

Bow won't spell when there is no one in the room. Bow will not talk to strangers. He refuses to answer questions that he thinks we already know the answer to. He uses language only to communicate, and I cannot bribe or cajole him to use it for anything else.

When you ask Bow a question, he'll just as soon lie than tell you the right answer. So, how can we get any kind of double blind testing into place?

The answer is that at the moment, we can't. We are working on a computer interface for Bow, and we hope to make our demonstrations more objective by allowing the computer to sound out the words that Bow types even when we can't see him typing. But that is still in the works, and while we wait for all the kinks to be ironed out, I've discovered some old clips that I believe prove Bow the one spelling out the words, because he's saying things that the person who is with him cannot possibly know.

In the following picture, you see Delight Wang standing in our living room with my daughter Sword. Delight and her mother June Sun stayed with us for six months in 2003.

Sword and Delight together  -- December 2003.
Sword and Delight together -- December 2003.

In the picture below, Delight is holding Bow while Sword looks on. When we spoke among ourselves we didn't call Delight by her English name. Her Chinese given name is 忻之. It's pronounced like this: [ʃɨ n ʐ ɨ] .

At the end of August 2007, I showed the pictures in our photo album to Eden Michaelov. Eden did not know Delight, and she did not know Delight's Chinese name. She took the sheets from the album containing the photo of Bow, Delight and Sword, and she asked Bow, at a time when I was not there, what the name of the little girl in the photo was.

If Bow had thought this was a test for purposes of proof, he probably wouldn't have answered. But he took Eden at her word. He knew that Eden didn't know, and he was willing to tell her.

Bow, Delight and Sword
Bow, Delight and Sword

English Translation of Dialogue in Clip 07082901-5

Eden: I want to know something. I saw this picture. Who is this girl? What is she called? That's Bow, right? Who is holding Bow here? Who is holding him? This is Sword. Who is this?

Bow: (spells) shin nun.

Eden: I don't know. I don't know her. What is her name. Do you know her? This is Sword; who is this? Tell me!

Bow: (spells)  shin nun gimmel.

Eden: (Tries to sound it out.) Shanag?

Eden: What are you doing? Tell me! What is her name?

Bow: (spells) shin nun.

Clip 07082901-5

There were three consonants in the Chinese name. When we write in Hebrew, it is common to specify only the consonants. Bow chose the three Hebrew consonants that most nearly conformed to the Chinese pronunciation. Hebrew doesn't have a [ʐ ] sound, but the gimmel stands for [g] the closest available sound, and what native speakers normally use to render a [ʐ ].

What are the odds that someone selecting three letters out of the twenty-two letter Hebrew alphabet in sequence at random would have chosen this sequence? The odds are 1 in 10,648.

Eden didn't know the answer. No one else was there besides Bow. Is there any other explanation than that it was Bow who selected the letters?

Row 1: the IPA for Delight's Chinese given name. Row 2: just the consonants in the Chinese name. Row 3: the IPA for the Hebrew consonants Bow chose
Row 1: the IPA for Delight's Chinese given name. Row 2: just the consonants in the Chinese name. Row 3: the IPA for the Hebrew consonants Bow chose

When Sword Met Bow

The next example is from the following year. Our Intern in the summer of 2008 was Katie Thurston She stayed with us till the beginning of September.  Katie is English, and she had been a student at the University of Edinburgh. Not only did she not speak Hebrew, something that Bow held against her, but her pronunciation of English was not American, and hence unfamiliar. At first Bow mistrusted her. He told me she talked funny. Then he started making up stories about her. He said she was an English spy, and that her name was Ruthie. He made up all sorts of interesting stories about what happened when I went out and left him alone with Katie.

Bow had always given new interns a hard time, but now that he could use language , there was an added element to his hazing: he tried to stir up trouble by making up tales. Eventually, though, Bow came to respect and like Katie, and they developed a close enough relationship that he felt safe with her. He began to spell with her. She even tried to learn a little Hebrew from him, but he refused to teach her, claiming that she was stupid, because she did not know Hebrew.

Bow could have helped our cause had he been willing to teach Katie Hebrew. It would have been proof that the words were coming from him and not her, had he been willing to provide English to Hebrew translations. But Bow is not that cooperative. Instead, on one occasion at least, he tried to mystify Katie by telling her in Hebrew what she could understand only when spelled out in English.

In the clip from September 3, 3008, transcribed below, Bow told Katie that he was full in three ways:

  1. He used the number 7, which when spelled out makes the word for "sated":


  2. He spelled out the word for "full": מלא
  3. When she didn't understand the above, he spelled out in English: "I am full."

Clip 08090301-3

Katie had picked up a little Hebrew in her three months with Project Bow. She knew the words for "Mommy", "Auntie" and "no." But this did not make her a speaker of Hebrew, and she did not understand what Bow was telling her.

Katie did not know that if spelled out in letters the Hebrew word for seven was identical in spelling with the word for "sated". Katie did not know the Hebrew word for full. There were no other people present, besides Katie and Bow. Is there any better explanation than that Bow was the one who pointed at the letters?

Some have suggested that all the researchers who have worked with Bow and had him spell for them are self-deluded. But how could self-delusion have resulted in the spelling out in context of words that the researchers did not know? What are the odds?

Real language use does not consist in answering questions that everybody already knows the answers to, as in the case of most double blind experiments approved by the scientific community. Real language use is coming up with spontaneous utterances that convey new information that your interlocutor does not know.

I would like to suggest a new standard of proof: if there is no other logical explanation than that the communication must have come from the subject, then we must accept that the subject has mastered language!

(c) 2009  Aya Katz

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Comments 115 comments

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 7 years ago from Texas

Very interesting and complete treatment of this subject! Thank you for the new information about Bow! :)

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Suzanne, thanks!

Ef El Light profile image

Ef El Light 7 years ago from New York State

Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, two of whose books I've read, persuaded me that Kanzi was responding in intelligible speech. Have neuroscientists determined that Chimpanzees have a frontal lobe for speech similar to humans, even though they cannot form words with their mouths?

You have shown that Bow is spontaneously intelligible in words.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

F.L.Light, thanks for your comment. I have the greatest respect and admiration for the work of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. I'm glad that you understood the evidence concerning Bow. It is a little involved, as it requires understanding more than one language, and I'm concerned that it might be difficult for some readers to take in.

As for your question about neuroscientists, I think that they are only just beginning to map the human brain. They have not determined much of anything about chimpanzees. In fact, if you show a neuroscientist a functional nuero-image of a human brain, I seriously doubt that he would be able to tell from that alone whether the individual whose brain is being imaged has or does not have language ability.

Ef El Light profile image

Ef El Light 7 years ago from New York State

You have taken the proof to a new level, showing how Bow, hearing English, answers in Hebrew, which the researcher does not know.

Might Bow prefer Hebrew because it has less letters?

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

F.L. Light, thanks! As for Bow's preference for Hebrew, I think it's the preference that each of us has for the language we know best and which is spoken in our homes. Bow has remarked that it is easier to write in Hebrew -- and most Hebrew speakers agree! But I don't think it's objectively any easier than writing in any other language. It depends on your frame of reference.

Ginn Navarre profile image

Ginn Navarre 7 years ago

I really loved this. I have rescued many dogs and birds that had been mistreated and found that their trust had to be given first above all else. I have a conjure parrot now and it has taken 5 years for him to accept me totally.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ginn Navarre, thanks for your comment! Yes, it takes trust to establish a relationship, whether with a human or a non-human. The importance of this fact cannot be overestimated in any attempt to test the ability to communicate.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

A fascinating subject covered extremely well in this hub Kanzi is indeed very patient Bow seems very much to have a mind of his own and is not adverse to using it.

Lisaml 7 years ago

Aya, the difficulty you have in proving langauge comprehension is similar to difficulty we have in proving language comprehension in a toddler with autism.

You have the added benefit in that Bow with interact socially. We are making progress but it is slow and we have to overcome the lack of social interaction prior to proving any receptive speach. Expressive speach sometimes comes only in the form of the toddler looking at the desired food or toy. It sometimes takes longer than we have to work with a child to get them to touch an object desired.

I have the problem that I serve child only untill their third birthday. It is so disheartening when the referral does not come to us until the child is two or two and a half.

I applaud your research and heartily agree that Bow is demonstrating both receptive and expressive speach.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Maggs, thanks! Kanzi and Bow are both very smart, but as you can see, their personalities are quite different.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

LisaML, thanks for your comment. It sounds as if you are facing a difficult task with the autistic toddlers that you serve. Why only until their third birthday? A child needs a long term commitment from an adult in order to reach his highest potential. If I had given up on Bow on his third birthday, we would never have known what he could do!

lisaml 7 years ago

Aya, The program with which I am employed is a birth to three program. At three a child is transitioned into another program be that the school district or private therapy, ect....

In a child with the single dx of an expression speech delay, gross motor delay, fine motor delay this seems to work. It is especially challenging in a child with autism due to the time it takes to form the connection.

There are many programs available and a lot or parents will try to utilize them all.

I also believe in consistency of the adult authority and comfort figure as a vital component in any developing childs life. Part of what we attempt to achive in my program is teaching the parent/ caregiver the tools to help their child. I have to admitt that this is seldom, in a child with autism, the outcome we achieve.

The struggles involve so many factors, from the medical community down to the socioeconomic and cultural diversity of the population we serve.

At what age did Bow's preliguist skills begin to emerge?


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Lisaml, I understand your situation a little better from this added information. One of the problems that the American public school system has, and to some extent also the medical care system, is the lack of consistency of teachers and caregivers throughout the maturation of the student or patient. The best hope for the autistic children you are helping is, as you say, parental involvement.

Bow's pre-linguistic skills emerged early, before six months. In some ways, a chimpanzee is the exact opposite of an autistic child, because they come with built-in social skills that are as advanced as their physical coordination is compared to the average human infant of the same age.

In retrospect, I see that I should have expected more of him linguistically much earlier than I actually did. I didn't expect him to manage lexigrams till he was a year old.

I believe the communication delays we experienced were mostly due to a mismatch between our rate of information processing and his. We were slower. For a long time, we just didn't see everything he said.

When we used the Greenspan DIR floortime method, it really helped, but it was just as much in our learning to read him as it was his learning to read us.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

I'm really impressed with this work; also, with what a lively student Bow is. I always was more fond of the intelligent naughty students -- common sense, wordplay, and imagination (all of which Bow demonstrates)are so much more fun than passive learning. And real proof that Bow is indeed using language to communicate. Who could still doubt it? The folk who say researchers are deluded are the ones who are in denial. Thank you for this great read.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Teresa, thanks! I agree. It's not the passive learners who are the most intelligent. I think a lot of humans, as well as non-humans, are penalized for their imaginative use of language in standardized assessments.

Michele Arrvinte profile image

Michele Arrvinte 7 years ago

Wow! This is great work! I believe that the world needs more scientists working in this field. May be when there is solid proof that animals are able to use language intelligible there will be less suffering among them caused by us humans.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Michele, thanks for your encouragement and support!

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

Very interesting. I've always thought that people and animals are far more clever than we give them credit for sometimes. I'm not so sure about the intelligent ape thing, some of the most advanced monkeys and apes in the wild are barely tool users, but the potential seems to be there.

Written language, I think will be key in proving the intelligence of other hominids. That and hominids showing understanding of the world around them and attempting to control their environment. That will prove both concrete problem solving and more abstract thinking, which will pretty much end the debate as to the intelligence of other hominids. Until those three things are proven, judgment must be withheld.

Very though provoking as always, Aya, great hub.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefenstech, thanks for your comment. I appreciate your open mindedness and willingness to look at possibilities you find implausible.

I take it from your comment that you are not convinced by the evidence I've presented. Do you have an argument against the standard of proof that I've suggested?

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

I can't say that I'm well versed in the subject, but I'm a great believer in the Law of Untended Consequences. I can't shake the feeling that we might be giving off cues that we don't notice but other hominids do. As for not being convinced, well it's not that exactly, it's more my reticence to accept anything at face vale. I can tell you that I cannot find fault with your methods, that's what makes what you suggest so intriguing.

Mostly it's just my nature to bash down new ideas like that and subscribe them to crystal gazers (long story) and err on the side of skepticism. I'll even stray into dogmatic territory, but in the end I'll judge something on it's merits. My adherence to skepticism is just a way to keep from being swept away by what I want to believe rather than what is. Zen Buddhism teaches us to divorce ourselves emotionally from the outcome of a situation, and my adherence to skepticism is my way of doing that.

I was wondering about Bow. Have you raised him from infancy and have you tried to teach him alphabets other than that of Hebrew? It would be interesting to see if chimps are able to grasp multiple alphabets, if your conclusions are valid, it would seem that they are just as adaptable as humans when it comes to spoken languages. Also recreating Bow's feats with another chimp would go a long way to providing replication of your experiment, which would help your case.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, keep being skeptical. I prefer an honest skeptic to a "true believer" who never questions anything.

However, I don't think you've read the material carefully enough, if you ask whether Bow has been taught any other alphabet besides Hebrew. He uses English, too. It's all in there. Read again and view the clips. Read the related pages. Yes, I have raised Bow since infancy. That, too, is described in a separate hub.

And, yes, I do want to do it again with a new infant -- this time a female, so that Bow can eventually have a mate. But I'm very cautious with my own money. And I haven't found anyone to donate the next one!

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

Very intriguing, I must have missed the English part. Are you able to assign him an analog age to a human. He acts like he's 6-8, 9-12 or something like that? It's things like this that reinforce my belief in both science and religion. To think that creation is even more filled with wonder than might be considered at first glance. Perhaps we are not the only sentient species we know of.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, I am very encouraged by your open-mindedness!

As for Bow's age, he is seven and a half. That's in normal "earth years". Please understand, he hasn't gone through puberty yet.

The human lifespan and the chimp lifespan are similar. In captivity, chimps can live to be in their seventies. In the wild, they rarely make it past forty. But that's true of humans, too.

Steve R McDowell profile image

Steve R McDowell 7 years ago from Atlanta

Very detailed, very impressive. I'm not sure if it constitutes scientific proof, but it certainly provides a good argument for it.

Am I completely convinced? No, but you did lean my opinion more towards "it's possible" than it was before!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Steve R. McDowell, thanks for your comment. I'm glad you're moving in the direction of being open to the idea. Hopefully, in the future I will be able to provide even better evidence.

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

You know, I just had a bit of an idea. If you can prove the sentience of chimps, then we have a bit of a problem. We would no longer be talking about the vanishing habitat of an animal species, but the extinction of a sentient race.

Rather than frame it as an ecological issue, the argument would be similar to discussions we have about tribal groups and our responsibility to them in allowing them to choose to live like their ancestors did. In this I'm reminded of the Raga people of Vanuatu. Although they have the choice to live in a modern society, they choose to live as they always have, in tribal groups.

The practical considerations of that bear thinking on.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, yes, I do see it as exactly the same problem. I've gotten in trouble in certain "progressive" circles when I've pointed it out.

By this, I don't mean to be advocating any particular rights for chimpanzees. I just happen to see that the parallels are very striking.

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

Hey I'm a libertarian. If they're sentient and live in a certain place, that makes the land theirs and they're free to do with it as they wish. The only problems I foresee is the destruction of their habitat, which may not be due to human activities (see the Maunder Minimum) but human action can either protect or transplant the species. That is what the debate should be about, in my opinion.

Some sort of caretaker system will probably be needed if only because I think the nuances of human society, advanced human society at least, are beyond them.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, the caretaker argument is a serious stumbling block to a real solution. You've seen what happens to children under the current child welfare system. The same thing could happen, and to some extent is happening, to apes in the sanctuary system established by liberal intellectuals like Jane Goodall.

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

It's a thorny issue that's for sure. I'm putting my money on nanotech uplifting such species so that they have the capacity that we have to dream and build and make their own way, not be solely dependent on their environment, but be able to have some control of it.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, I don't think Bow would take kindly to any technology whose goal was to alter his ability to dream -- or to change his mind about anything.

The question is: can we accept chimpanzees the way they really are, without trying to alter them?

Bow is very intelligent, but he's absolutely opposed to anything that even remotely resembles work.

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

I was thinking more about their shrinking habitat. Unless I'm mistaken, don't chimps need trees and such in order to survive? AFAIK only our ancestors made the transition from trees to plains, I don't think chimps would do very well in a plains environment, do you?

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Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, yes, I agree they need trees, and lots of them. The problem is that they are not able to defend the borders of their habitat.

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Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Sorry, Aya - I completely missed this one, so I apologise for the late comment. I like to keep up with you and Bow but have been concentrating upon pumping out commercial Hubs recently.

You are preaching to the converted here - I once looked an Orang in the eyes and it was a humbling experience.

It was also the day that I vowed never to set foot in a Zoo again.

In fact, judging by Bow's aptitude for languages, is there any chance that you could send him over for a couple of months - he could probably pick up Greek much quicker than a Northern Bonehead like me :D

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Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Sufidreamer, thanks for dropping by. Any luck generating revenue from your commercial hubs? Seems like kind of a pipe dream, to me. At any rate, I can't boast much revenue myself.

Certainly not enough to get Bow a companion of his own kind.

Yeah, I never go to the zoo anymore, either. It's depressing.

Bow doesn't travel much nowadays. He's safest here. He might even resist learning Greek, because it's easiest to start in on a new language when still a toddler.

I did want him to learn Chinese, but we didn't have enough volunteers who spoke Chinese to keep it consistent.

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Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Hi Aya,

No payout, as yet, but I am starting to see an increase in Adsense and Amazon - I am not promoting them, so it will be slow. The plan is to make a decent income next summer, always a slow time for academic writers. My cost of living is pretty low, so even a couple of hundred dollars a month will cover the bills. Mind you, the subject matter is pretty dull!

I hope that you manage to find Bow a companion - apart from being nice for him, the scientist in me wonders if he would be able to teach language to a younger chimp. That would surely give you another level of proof :)

I was only half joking about the Greek - it is a language full of hidden subtleties and moods. Mind you, I can imagine that Hebrew has much the same richness.

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Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Sufi, keep me posted on your progress. What subject matter is dull? Are you talking about your commercial hubs? I'll have to look and see. Isn't it impossible to write well on a subject you find dull?

I hope to find Bow a companion, one way or another. It will definitely open many interesting avenues for additional proof.

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Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

At the moment, I am writing about portable toilets, septic tanks and cement mixers! It can be a little difficult to write about dull subjects, but I am well used to it by now - I started off writing for the article mills, so you learn how to get into the right frame of mind and write on autopilot!

I will definitely keep up with your progress - I think that we (as a race) are incredibly arrogant in the way that we approach other species. I love the work that you are doing there - a battle to change attitudes :)

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Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Sufidreamer, portable toilers, septic tanks and cement mixers. Wow! How did you pick those topics? I imagine they can be interesting, especially if you have need of them.

Bow is battling to change my attitude every day, too. I still have certain expectations that come built in if you've been raised human. My horizons are broadened as we make our way together as a family.

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Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Hi Aya - had to go to bed last night so missed your reply!

I am from a family of builders and also worked in a hardware store for many years, so am sticking with what I know. I am trying to work around the age old principle of 'providing a solution to a specific problem.' If somebody wants to hire portable toilets for a wedding reception, the information is in the Hub!

I used to have a 50/50 split between internal and external traffic, but HP traffic now makes up less than a quarter, although some of that may be because I do not bother with the forums anymore.

I like your attitude with Bow - it seems like you are both learning many things from each other. It must be great for Sword, too - she has the advantage of having few preconceived notions, unlike us oldies!

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Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Sufi, writing about what you know is a very good idea! I'm sure it's not dull at all. You were probably just being modest. Attracting more traffic from outside Hubpages than from within is a sign of success.

Sword lives in two worlds, the domestic one where she and Bow are siblings, and the external one where other children at school do not even realize that humans are a kind of animal, like all living things that aren't plants.

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Erick Smart 7 years ago

This is an amazing story! What does constitute proof is a tough line to decide.

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Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Erick Smart, thanks! What constitutes proof is one of the biggest issues facing us today.

kephrira profile image

kephrira 7 years ago from Birmingham

interesting topic. Just watching some of these apes (I've seen a couple on tv programmes) it seems self evident that they have language, but I've never really read about the scientific problems in recognizing this before.

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Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Kephrira, thanks for your comment. You seem unusually observant. Yes, I am convinced at this point that they do have languages of their own in the wild, but we are a long way from being able to learn enough to prove this. For the time being, even when they do they learn our languages and use them expressively, we have trouble establishing acceptable protocols for proof.

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Robakerost 7 years ago

Although I must confess I didn't read the entire article... I used to be a primate keeper and we had one chimp, Rachael, who knew a little sign language. Pretty much "apple" or she would point at her hand when she wanted something you (I) had. Like a coke! I agree that she didn't seem to be using it to express herself, just to get a certain reaction and as a means to gain something. I did believe that they communicated quite extensively with each other. I mean that's obvious I guess if you watch them long enough.

One thing I've always found frustrating about people who want to keep chimps or apes as companions, is they just are too much to handle when they reach adulthood. They are just to unpredictable. Its just a shame because people think they're all cute and try to humanize them and they really don't know how to be an ape later on in life when they become too much for their human owners to handle. So they end up in a cage by themselves.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Robakerost, thanks for your comment and for being honest about not reading the article. Sometimes we want to share our own experiences so much, that we don't listen to what the other person has to say. I've done that before myself, so I do understand where you are coming from. However, it would be really great if you went back and read the article.

If you read this article, and some of my other articles about Project Bow, you might learn the following surprising facts:

* Bow can read and write in two languages

* He uses language to express thoughts -- not just ask for things.

* When Bow got big enough to need a to be caged, I caged myself along with him, so that he would never be alone.

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

I thought you might find the following article interesting:


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, thanks! I'll comment later, after I've had a chance to read it.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledenfensetech, thanks for sharing this short piece about Dr. Klaus Zuberbühler's work on Campbell's monkeys and the syntax of their communicative utterances. This discovery does not surprise me.

Too bad the person who wrote the article has such a narrow view of the linguistic abilities of chimps. If you analyze chimpanzee vocalizations you can see that they speak faster and higher than we do (high frequency is related to faster speed, of course). They also have shorter onset for their vowels, so that if they are using consonants, the consonants are much harder for a human to identify. All this means that we will need computer assistance to properly analyze chimpanzee vocalizations. We cannot rely on what we hear with the naked ear and can analyze in real time.

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

True, the author does seem to have a bias, but there was once a time people thought it completely ridiculous that earth could fall from the sky. Progress is progress, no matter how slowly it comes.

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Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, yes, progress moves at it own pace. I think there will be some interesting discoveries about chimpanzee vocalizations in the very near future. Some people are already working on that puzzle.

BTW, nice to see you back. You were conspicuous by your absence.

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sheila b. 6 years ago

This is a subject I find fascinating. I've read books about apes using sign language, and certainly believe they are communicating. As for your proofs in this article, I thought you presented the examples in an understandable way, and what other explanation could there be? You're right, some common sense is needed.

I just read a comment you left after one of my comments, about Obama on my Twitter list. No, it wasn't a retweet. He's not someone I followed, and he's not on my home page, he's on my smaller Twitter list of about 12 newsmakers. It sounds so paranoid of me to mention it, but it IS eerie to see his tweets. I don't know how he got on my list, I can't figure it out. That's why I was curious to see if anyone else has had this experience. No one commenting on that hub said they had.

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Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Sheila, thanks. I also can't think of any other explanation for these events than that the Bow was the one saying these things. Unfortunately, it doesn't fit into the normal scientific paradigm for proof, so it is hard to get the experts to take cognizance of it. It's a shame that common sense plays so small a role in scientific discourse!

I've never had the experience that you described of having someone I did not choose to follow appear on my Twitter list. However, occasionally one of the people I do follow retweets something by someone else, and that shows up on my Twitter, even though I don't follow the original author of the tweet.

ceciliabeltran profile image

ceciliabeltran 6 years ago from New York

Ok, this blows my mind, the Hebrew and everything demands that I read it at night when no one is looking or bothering me! I will be back but definitely its rich!

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Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Cecilia, thanks! I look forward to any further comments or questions.

echineselessons profile image

echineselessons 6 years ago

Yeah, it is so interesting. I am learning Chinese now !!

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Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

echineselessons, good for you! Chinese is a very interesting language with a long written history.

rlaframboise profile image

rlaframboise 6 years ago from 1776

I have to say, this was an absolutely fascinating article and animals never cease to amaze me. I think often as humans we feel that only we truly "communicate" but what constitutes communication varies from species to species but ultimately is expressing our desires or feelings to others no matter how we do it. I suppose my dog scratching the window when she sees a squirrel is similarly a primitive way she has figured out to communicate her desires to me as well and I think inter species communication is a fascinating subject.

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Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Rlaframboise, thanks. Communication is one thing, and language is another. To get what your dog wants when she scratches the window as she spots a squirrel, you have to use your theory of mind and pragmatic inferencing. Even someone who has never been exposed to language can do that, provided that they are not severely autistic. On the other hand, reading your comment without any access to you in person is more clearly an exercise in the decoding of language. Most of us can do both. So can Bow!

Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 6 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

Well done Aya. Give my regards to Bow. The most amazing fact is that he is able to spell on Hebrew and on English. Wow!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Tatjana-Mihaela. I'll tell Bow what you said. Now if I could only get him to help clean up around here...

Achiever 6 years ago

Did nim chimsky actually learn language?? Pls help me out in detail

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Achiever, Nim Chimpsky learned some sign language, by all accounts. However, the people who taught him were not native speakers of ASL, and deaf speakers of the language were critical of Nim's use of ASL. Terrace believed Nim was speaking in a spontaneous way, until after he had sent Nim back to the farm and abandoned him. On reviewing the tapes, he did a 180 degree turn, and then claimed that Nim acquired no language at all.

Later in Nim's life, Nim continued to sign to people as a way of communicating, even though there was no reward for doing so.

In my opinion, learning language is not all or nothing, and there are different degrees of achievement. If you are really interested, then I would suggest that you read the biography by Elizabeth Hess, as well as the books and articles by Terrace, written both before and after he abandoned Nim.

Achiever 6 years ago

Thank U very much....i'll forever remain grateful.....pls, can U give me a link where i can read d articles u suggested??

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

The Elizabeth Hess book should be available in your local library. It is called NIM CHIMPSKY: THE CHIMP WHO WOULD BE HUMAN.

The 1979 article in which Terrace decided against Nim can be found here:


The book that Terrace published about Nim that same year was more positive:

Terrace, H. S. (1979). Nim. New York: Knopf.

For earlier articles, I suggest you contact Terrace directly:


libby101a profile image

libby101a 6 years ago from KY

Amazing hub. I love Bow. He's so cute. Fascinating work you are doing. Rating up. Keep up the awesome work.

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Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Libby101a, for the encouragement!

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"prickly pear" 6 years ago


When Bow spelled shin, nun, gimmel, in Hebrew, how could he have known whether Eden did, or did not know Delight, or that no one ever told her about Delight, or that she had never seen the photos of Delight, and told who is in the photos?

And how could he have known that native speakers of Chinese use the letter g to indicate the sound for which there is no equivalent in Hebrew? Do you believe he figured that out that he should use the letter Gimmel for that sound, when spelling in Hebrew, relying on phonetics?

If I understand correctly when Bow spells words, he relies on the way the words sound when uttered. Now, when the Hebrew words for the digit 7, and for the word meaning "sated", are written using only consonants, and not distinguishing between the letter shin with the dot on the top-right, or top-left of the letter, they look identical. But when spoken, they sound completely different! Where would Bow get the idea to write 7, to indicate the Hebrew word for "sated", which does not sound like 7 at all? Did he see the Hebrew words for seven, and for sated, spelled, and do you assume he was then able to figure out for himself that the two words looked identical when spelled, and that (when spelling in Nebrew)the digit 7 could, therefore, be used to stand for the word "sated", even though the two words sound totally different when spoken?

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Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear,

Eden never met Delight. Delight left long before Eden appeared. Eden in fact did not know Delight's Chinese name. Are you asking how Bow knew that Eden did not know? Presumably, in the same way that the rest of us knew it: based on circumstantial evidence.

For purposes of proof, it does not matter whether Bow knew or did not know what Eden knew. It's enough that she didn't know.

To the extent that I mentioned his cooperative attitude, due to the fact that he did not think this was a test question, this is just background information.

Bow does not spell words only phonetically. Please remember that he learned Hebrew spelling first from lexigrams. He learned them as holistic wholes first, and only later he learned how the way words are pronounced relates to how they are spelled. He also gets correction for spelling on ordinary words, if he spells them wrong. So, yes, Bow was familiar with how to spell Hebrew sated.

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"prickly pear" 6 years ago

I fealise that I confused Eden with Kaity, and Bow's spelling in Hebrew shin, nun, gimmel, occurred with Kaity (not Eden), when only Kaity and Bow were present.

However, Sword might have told Kaity, at some point, even without looking at any photos, that years ago she used to have a Chinese friend named so and so, and then forgotten she had talked to Kaity about it. If Kaity said she did not know about Delight, then all we have here is not circumstantial evidence, but only hearsay, which any referees on an article reporting the case, might distrust.

Also, the Hebrew word for full, is mem, lamed, aleph, not sated; which maybe related to, but not identical with sated. Maybe Bow was cued to type 7 for a totally different reason, that had nothing to do with sated. Suppose he was cued to type that he would eat more at 7. (I can't think of anything more intelligent right now, but give me time.)

And why did he start his typing with the letter aleph? Do you assume (without any vidence)that the aleph stood for an abbreviated Hebrew I?

I'm just trying to guess why you were not able to publish the evidence based on these two cases; unless you never actually tried to publish these incidents. Were the rejections of whatever you tried to publish about your chimp-research due only to the fact that no respectable scientific journal would accept an article about chimps unless the author is affiliated with some recognized scientific institution?

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, no, you had it right the first time. The shin-nun-gimmel incident happened with Eden, not Katie. But Eden never met Delight, and, as far as we know, she did not know Delight's Chinese name. Is it possible that Sword told her and then both of them forgot that she had told her? I suppose anything is possible, but that's what Eden recalled. You have to believe Eden in order to take this as evidence.

Where do you get that he started typing "full" with aleph? We transcribed his Hebrew right to left. Did you get confused about the direction?

"Sated" is one of the normal ways to say one is full in Hebrew. That's what sated means, actually. It means you're not hungry any more. Full is a lower register way of saying the same thing. Bow uses both registers.

I did publish this evidence in THE LACUS FORUM. It is a journal for functional linguists, but it does not have particularly high prestige with the powers that be. It is very hard for an unaffiliated researcher to get published in a highly prestigious journal, as you suggest.

To add to the difficulty, any institution receiving funding from the Federal government would have its funding pulled if it were to in any way cooperate with a researcher not under IACUC supervision. It is a way to silence people.

"prickly pear" 6 years ago

I got the aleph at the start from the English transcription, which says that Bow spelled:

aleph-mem-lamed-aleph-dalet-vav-dalet-he-7-7 (in the reverse direction, of course). There is cklearly an aleph at the start!

Re Bow spelling 7, you assume he meant the Hebrew word for sated. But mulling over the issue, and assuming that Katie learned at least the Hebrew alphabeth, and knowing how Hebrew-speaking people sound, when they speak the language, I know that most of them do not pronounce the third guttural letter in the Hebrew word for 7; do not distinguish in pronounciation between samech and shin with a top-left dot, as well as between bee without a dot in the middle, and vav. Taking all this into account, the digit 7 could stand for very many other Hebrew words, like grandfather (saba), reason (siba), she came back (shava), nothing (shav), some kind of gem (shvo), and probably many other words. If any spelling by Bow is not cued, 7 might mean anything other than sated. Maybe all he meant is that he had a reason for not wanting more food.

Re Delight, I can imagine the following scenario:

Sword does not get too many visitors coming to her home, and, therefore, enjoys chatting with your helpers. She might have told Eden a million things, including the fact that years ago she had a Chinese friend , named so and so, who lived in the house with her mother for six months. Eden never saw tghe photos wiith Delight until she showed them to Bow and asked about the girl in the photos. She recognized Sword, and Bow, even though the photos were taken several years earlier. She figured that the Chinese looking girl might be the friend Sword had told her about, but she asked Bow, because she was not sure. She also did not exactly remember Delight's Chinese name, which might not be easy to remember for a non-Chinese speaking person. This scenario clears Eden of any suspicion of lying. She indeed did not know for sure who the other girl in the photos was, nor what her name was. If she was cueing Bow, this could explain why he spelled shin-nun; shin-nun-gimme; shin-nun. He knew the girls Chinese name!Why did he spell it twice with only 2 letters, unless it was due to cuing by Eden, who did not exactly remember the name?

Sword might have chatted with Eden about so many things, that she might have forgotten many of them, including her telling Eden about Delight.

In short, I need much more robust evidence to fully convince me that everything Bow spells comes from his own mind! (When he spells the words for what he wants to eat, that could very well not be cued. But this does not prove that everything he spells is also not cued.)

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

I have many questions re your Bow-project, but I'm completely losing my way among your various hubs & blogs. (Undoubtedly my own fault, because I don't know how exactly to find my way in all of this.)

However, since I am getting responses to my questions here, I shall use this place to post many more questions:

1. Re the touchscreen with the talking computer, where Bow right now needs to use a chopstick to touch letters on the screen through small holes, does he need a human to hold his hand that grips the stick, in order to type, or can he do it without any help from any human?

2. Has Bow ever typed any meaningful word by using the touchscreen without any help from any human?

3. You reported that he used the touchscreen in the company of Lawrence alone, to say "See yours', and then "it", then some gibberish (when Lawrence asked him what he meant by "it", and then "take". Do I assume correctly that Lawrence was holding Bows hand that gripped the stick, throughout all this typing?

4. When anyone types on the touchscreen, the computer pronounces what was typed (not letter by letter, but whole words and sentences. I assume that the computer also displays on the screen whatever was typed. If no one can see Bow typing on the touchscreen, nor see what appears on the computer's screen, but believes he hears the computer speak, is it possible to instruct the computer to repeat what it said, and also repeat showing what it said on its own screen, in order to check that what one heard was really uttered by the computer, and was not some sound from a totally different source (like a radio, people speaking to one another inside the house, or outdoors, people speaking on the phone, playing a dvd, etc.)?

5. You reported somewhere that a former helper suggested in a post, that you should try to get Bow to type more slowly, so that you could easily see what he is typing. (I assume she was referring to Bow's typing using the "glass", without being slowed down by a human holding Bow's hand, and, thus, forcing the chimp to type more slowly.)

You responded that Bow can type more slowly (i assume without being forced to slow down by a human holding his hand), but he then types gibberish!

You proposed that this is due to a chimp acting much faster than humans in various situations, including when 'speaking", i.e. typing; and that being forced to type more slowly than is normal for him poses a serious disturbance for him, making it impossible for him to type what he would have typed at his normal speed. You pointed out that even humans would get confused if required to speak much more slowly than normal.

In other words, you wish to believe that everything Bow types at what is normal speed for him, comes from his own mind, to the point where you refuse to even consider the possibility that the gibberish Bow types when he slows down, is exactly what he would have typed without being slowed down (and without having a human force him to slow down). Refusing to even consider the possibility that one's "pet hypothesis" may be groundless, is the most dangerous attitude a scientist can adopt, because this only too easily leads to self-delusion,

Now, Bow obviously does not type gibberish, when forced to slow down by a human holding Bow's hand! It is, thus, obvious that merely typing more slowly than normal for him, does not, in itself, cause him to type gibberish. Of course, you might try to revise your "ad hoc" explanation, by suggesting that Bow only gets disturbed when he needs to concentrate on what he wants to type, and also on slowing down, but is not disturbed when he doesn't need to concentrate on slowing down, which is forced on him by the human holding his hand. I would suggest thathe stps typing gibberish when slowed down by a human, because he needs the human to ce him as to what to type!

This is why I need to know whether when Bow typed gibberish using the touchscreen, in the company of Lawrence alone, Lawrence was holding his hand and forcing him to slow down, or not.Even if Bow could type on the touchscreen without any human intervention, it is possible thatmerely manipulating the chopstick would force him to slow down. In short, I need to know what exactly was going on there!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear,

I'll try to address your points in the order that you made them, but they were so numerous, that if I miss a few, please feel free to come back and ask again.

1. The sequence of letters that begins with an aleph Bow spelled was "Mommy is not Auntie"

[ima lo doda]

aleph-mem-aleph lamed-aleph dalet-vav-daled-heh.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

2. The ayin is not "pronounced" by Ashkenazis in the sense of being an audible pharyngeal sound, such as you might hear in Arabic or in a Yemenite pronunciation of Hebrew. But... this does that not mean that we can't hear its presence. The word for sated rhymes with the word for hear (present participle), because of some complex rules that apply when something ends in a pharyngeal and not otherwise.

So, if you are a native speaker, you can hear the ayin's presence in the word for sated, even though it's not the consonant sound you hear, but the adjoining vowels.

Secondly, Bow learned lexigrams in standard orthography first. He is not spelling phonetically at all times. He understands the standard spellings. Perhaps it would help you if you read the hub about our lexigrams:


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

3. Could Katie have known all of this? No. She learned a few words. Sated wasn't one of them. Full wasn't one of them. She did not know how seven was spelled. This is complicated stuff that a native speaker knows. I wasn't there when it happened. Katie did not recognize the pun, even later when she looked at the footage. I was the one who recognized what it was that Bow was trying to say, after I had viewed the footage.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Could Eden have known on some subconscious level what Delight's Chinese name was? That is really grasping, but I cannot claim that this possibility is absolutely foreclosed.

Not robust enough for you?

Okay, I accept that. But... for those of us who have been there and know how very, very unlikely it is for someone to come up with a Chinese name out of thin air, it does serve as evidence.

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Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, now I turn to your second comment.

1. Bow uses the chopstick by himself, sometimes when Lawrence is out of the room. What happens is that Lawrence hears what the computer said, but often he can't see what Bow types. This means he is not able to cue Bow as to which letters to type.

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Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

2. Has Bow ever typed any meaningful word by himself.


3. Was Lawrence holding Bow's hand when Bow typed "take" and "it"?


4. It should be possible to get the computer to record the keystrokes Bow made. We haven't done so yet, because sometimes we play on the computer, too, along with Bow, and I don't know how we would distinguish our keystrokes from Bow's.

5. I realize it's the weakest point in our argument that Bow doesn't make sense when he slows down, but it's not true that everything he has said was said with assistance.

I think it would be an interesting experiment to require humans to slow down to a fraction of their normal communicative speed and see how well they did at making sense.

Anyway, I hope this helps to clarify the issues and the facts for you.

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

Thanks for all your explanations.

Re your "Mother not auntie"; I read it as "Aleph" (maybe standing for an abbreviated Hebrew I)"full aountie".

I am disturbed by the fact that you expect me to accept (in this, as well as many other occasions) your own interpretation of what Bow meant, even though your interpretations may be mere groundless conjectures on your part.

Also, I see no point in asking how Bow could understand anything about espionage, death, sex, etc., since you said you raised him as if he were a human child, to be totally immersed in an environment full of Hebrew & English speech. Who can know everything he had been exposed to through such an experience, or how the exposure might have enabled him to understand concepts that may not even exist in a chim's world.

Re Delight's Chinese name, in my latest scenario I did not suggest that Eden did not know it at all. I only suggested that she had never seen a photo of Delight before, and did not know whether the second girl in the photo (actually 2 photos) was Delight, or not, and that she knew Delight's Chinese name only vaguely, but was not sure of that.

Re the talking computer, if Bow uses it without any human intervention, and spells meaningful words, I can't see what's your problem, unless the problem is that Bow refuses to use this computer. In that case you might be able to solve the problem by completely excluding the use of the "glass" on which Bow spells, leaving him no choice but to use the talking computer. If you then askhim what he wants to eat, you expect that he would respond using the talking computer, or that he would not respond, or tell you to "take" that computer, presumably meaning, remove it? I think you should try all this, and see what happens!

Also, yousay that Bow sometimes uses the talking computer when Laurence is not present. Do you mean to say that Bow sometimes uses the talking computer even when no human is present? If so (and I'm not sure I understood correctly), this counter your statement that Bow "speaks" only for the purpose of communication. When no human is present, there is no one for Bow to communicate with.

And, of course, you need to arrange it so that when anyone believes he heard the talking computer speak, but did not see Bow using that computer, nor what he heard spoken appear on the computer screen, it should be possible to instruct the computer to repeat what it uttered, as well as show it again on its screen. (In fact, you should make it possible to instruct the computer to repeat, as many times as you want, so you can always check, and recheck whether what you thought you heard, was indeed spoken by the computer.)

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear,

When you write: "Re your "Mother not auntie"; I read it as "Aleph" (maybe standing for an abbreviated Hebrew I)"full aountie", I am not able to understand what you mean by that. How are you parsing the sentence? Why would you assume that instead of a reading that is in standard Hebrew?

I don't need you to accept MY interpretation of what Bow meant. If you speak English and Hebrew, then you can interpret it for yourself, as you would interpret what anybody else means when they say something. To the extent that I offered interpretations, it was because you did not seem to understand the Hebrew.

Eden told me that she did not know Delight's name. You can question her veracity or mine, or you can assume she somehow was deluded and did in fact know subconsciously. But what you cannot assert convincingly is that you believe the facts I put forth, but have an alternative explanation. Either Eden knew or she didn't. If she didn't, then this is proof that the information came from Bow.

When I said Bow likes to use the computer when Lawrence is not in the room, here is the scenario. Bow uses the potty. Lawrence takes the potty to empty it, within the pen system, but not in the same pen with Bow. They are within visual and auditory range of each other, but are not in the same enclosure and Lawrence is not looking at the screen. So he hears what Bow types when the computer pronounces it, but cannot say for sure which keys Bow hit. (Yes, we can record keystrokes, but it doesn't happen often enough for that be our main concern at the moment.)

Yes, it has occurred to us that we could deprive Bow of access to letters on the glass. I'm not sure you understand the immense cruelty of doing such a thing to Bow, or the ways in which Bow may react.

There is more involved here than simply reading a few hubs will clarify for you. If you really want to find out, volunteer with Project Bow for a year, and you will have a better idea of all the variables.

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

I did not suggest that Eden knew Delight's Chinese name subconsciously, but only that she was not quite sure about how exactly the name sounded, since she heard it in a languge that was totally foreign to her.

O.K. I now understand that when you said Bow used the talking computer when Lawrence wasn't there, you meant that Lawrence was not in the same compartment with Bow, but Bow could still see Lawrence, and communicate with him.

I don't see why you assume that denying Bow the use of the "glass" to type on would be terribly cruel, or even cruel at all. Why don't you try it, just to see what happens? Whatever will happen is certainly not going to kill him. You think he doesn't like to use the talking computer, because it is not so easy for him to useby poking a chopstick through small holes, to reach what I imagine is a kind of keyboard. But, by leaving him no choice to communicate except by using the talking computer, he might simply get so used to using it, to the point where he could be trusted to use the "keybooard" by typing on it directly, without any need to poke a chopstick through holes, which would make it as easy for him to use, as using the "glass", and would allow you to let him type on that "keyboard" without trying to destroy it, or even wanting to destroy it at all. It seems to me that this is the state of affairs you are hoping to achieve. So dare to give it a chance!

Thanks for the invitation to volunteer to directly participate in your Bow-project. But I must decline the invitation. I have my own, very different plans. And the truth of the matter is that I feel very uncomfortable by the mere fact that you refer to Bow as your son. Raising him as if he were a human-child, cannot turn him into the son of any human.

I'll be satisfied by merely following the news on your Bow-project, as you report them, and asking questions when there are some details that, not being a witness, I do not fully understand.

I certainly wish you the best of luck with your research!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear,

I don't know how to state this more clearly: Eden did not know Delight's Chinese name. She and I were looking for information to ask Bow about that she did not know. She agreed this would be a good test because she did not know. If Sword had told her the name, and she remembered being told, then it would be incumbent on her to reveal this knowledge to me prior to the test. So, unless you doubt my veracity or Eden's, or unless you think that Eden knew this without knowing that she knew it, the information could not have come from anyone but Bow.

He was the only one there at the time who knew.

Bow is very stubborn, and unless you get to know him, you cannot understand what maintaining a positive relationship with him requires. We tried something much less drastic than what you suggest. We decided that Bow would have to use the computer to request a small snack or game from Lawrence in the afternoon. (This is an optional thing, not a major entitlement we are talking about.) Bow went for months and refused to ask. It affected the relationship with Lawrence to the point that Lawrence had to ask me to allow Bow to request these things on the glass.

After we relented, Bow started using the computer voluntarily occasionally, when he felt like it, to spell out messages of his own devising. He hates being manipulated. He would cut off all communication rather than feel forced.

I appreciate your honest interest in this matter. Please feel free to continue monitoring our progress and asking questions about my articles.

The fact that you feel "uncomfortable" that I treat Bow as a person is an emotional reaction on your part. A true scientist would not feel uncomfortable about this. He would just see it as one of the conditions of the experiment. He would understand that if I did not treat Bow this way, he would likely behave differently.

BTW, I always refer to Bow as my adopted chimpanzee son. I do not pretend to be his biological mother, nor do I ever deny that he is a chimpanzee. The family relationship has to do with the fact that I raised him. This is the same in any adoption. It doesn't change the genetics of the child. But it may change his cultural and linguistic background.

H P Roychoudhury profile image

H P Roychoudhury 6 years ago from Guwahati, India

Apart from proof, what we see the research in language of gorilla and other animals are not developed as expected in the 21st century. Of course everybody has to appreciate the dedicated people who had undertaken research in this effort. But we, the people expect more to know these creatures in the atmosphere of developed science.

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

I believe you misunderstood me re knowing Delight's Chinese name. I am not questioning anyone's veracity. What I had in mind is that Eden did not know that name, but might have thought that perhaps it sounded something like so and so.

Things like that often happen to me when I hear, or read a name in a foreign language that I do not know, even if I hear, or read the name repeatedly, because it is in the news, I still do not know the name, but I think it may sound something like so and so. For instance, I do not know Chinese at all> If I try to recall the name of China's Prime Minister, who was repeatedly on the news recently, I am aware that I do not know the name, but I think it sounds like Bao...something, or that it reminds me of Judo, although I'm sure this is not his name. If you asked me whether I knew the name, I would answer in the negative, and I in so doing I would be quite truthful. But I would not necessarily mention to you that I think I have some vague idea of what the name sounds like.

As for you referring to Bow as your son, I have certainly encountered such references in your hubs, I'm sure you don't mean this literally, and that my response is purely emotional. But it makes me emotionally want to stay as far as I can from any direct contact with your Bo-research. I feel the same discomfort, when I hear dog-owners treat their dogs as if the dogs were their children. And years ago, when I had a very cute little dog, I hated it when people who knew me and saw me without the dog would ask "How's the baby?". I hope this has nothing to do with being a true scientist, which requires keeping such feelings under complete control.

Leaving Bow no choice but to use the talking computer would probably work much more smoothly if he had to use it to "say" what food he wants to eat, rather than what toy he wants. So perhaps you should try it again, this time with food. No matter how stubborn you believe Bow to be, he would undoudetly not starve himself for months, or even for one day. In fact, I'm very curious to find out what would happen if you try this "thought experiment" of mine. Shouldn't take long to perform!

You believe a true scientist would not feel like that

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

H P Roychoudhury, I agree that we have a long way to go before we can say that we understand all that is going on in the minds of other great apes and in their cultures and social groups. But as little progress as we have made, I think the effort is well worth it.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, when I say Eden did not know the name, I mean she had never heard it. If she believed that she had had some kind of exposure to the name, she would have told me so.

Starving Bow is exactly what I meant by unspeakable cruelty. If you can't see that this is not all right, then you don't understand what it is to be humane toward another living being.

All apes -- including human beings -- can be reduced to seeming automotons by such treatment, but I can assure you that they will not perform linguistically at the level that we are talking about, by being treated this way.

In many experiments, when food is the reward for performing an act, then the act will be performed in a perfunctory, mechanical way. Afterwards, scientists observe that there was no spontaneity or creativity in the language use-- and they attribute this to the lack of intelligence of the subject, and congratulate themselves on being human beings and superior.

But they themselves would not perform any better, if their language use were cued by starvation and a food reward.

Do you feel uncomfortable that I consider Bow my adopted son, because I treat him as a member of my family? How do you imagine we could compare the performance of a human child with that of a chimpanzee, if we gave one a family and deprived the other of such a thing?

How well do you think any human child would perform if he had no one to count on not to abuse him?

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

Re Eden and Delight's Chinese name: Eden might not have told you she had heard the name from Sword, unless you specifically asked her; which you did not.

While you are greatly impressed by Bow typing things which you believe only he can know, I am deeply distressed by him typing about things that I do not believe he can know at all, like claiming that Katie is a spy, (a British spy, no less), philosophising about life and death, or saying he wants a girlfriend, because he presumably understood that the mice in the attic where having noisy sex! (The mice certainly never told him what they were doing, in any language that he could understand.)

Re my little "thought experiment", I don't think you would be starving Bow at all, but only making him more willing to use the talking computer.

While you have been horrified by the mere thought of trying my little "thought experiment", I have been mulling of possible ways to improve it, by making it as similar as possible to the situation where you ask Bo what he wants to eat, and he answers by typing on the glass.

I assume that before you ask him, you show him a tray with different kinds of food on it. Leave him with the possibility of answering only by using the talking computer, but bring the type of foods you know he specifically likes, if there is such a thing.

Also, I have been wondering why Bow doesn't like to use the talking computer. I can see at least 2 possible reasions, which may both apply here. First, it is much more difficult to type by poking a chopstick through small holes, than tping on the "glass" with his finger. Second, when he types using the "glass" he hears no human voice speaking. (He may simply be dusturbed by hearing the talking computer talk; which he is not used to.)

The second possible problem can be very easily solved, by simply muting the talking computer, and watching what appears on the computer screen, as Bow types.

Removing the first problem may not be as simple as that, but it is not necessarily insurmountable. I'm mulling of ways of making typing on the "keyboard" of the now muted talking computer, as similar as possible to typing on the "glass". Try bigger holes, to make it easier to poke a chopstick through. Perhaps with bigger holes Bow could even use his finger, instead of a chopstick, to type. Of course, we need to prevent Bow from being able to detroy the "keyboard" with the nail of his finger. Maybe he couldn't damage the "keyboard" by poking only with a finger. If you think he could damage the "keyboard", perhaps you need to consider (with help from your computer-expert) of replacing the transparent panels with holes in it, with a transparent sheet of glass, and thus do away with the chopsticks, and the holes, and making the situation much more closely resemble the situation when Bow uses the original "glass" to type. The problem here is how to make the "keyboard" of the muted talking computer, respond to typing with a finger on a sheet of glass in front of the "keyboard".Your computer-expert should be able to devise a way to solve this problem. And, Voila! You will have a sityation that is very similar to the situation that exists when Bow types with a finger on the original "glass". Should he want him to hold his hand while he types, just avoid it, until he types witout any human assistance.

I know you are very pleased with having come up with the idea of making Bow use a chopstick to poke a "keyboard" through little holes. But your "brilliant" idea might have introduce very serious, and possibly quite unnecessary problems.

While you may see horror visions of your poor "son" being starved to deth, I do not see him suffering at all, but only learning to like using the talking computer. I urge you to seriously consider trying my "improved little thought experiment"; with any additional improvements you may tink of.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear,

Eden and I worked together to think of things she could not possibly know about to use as tests. If she had heard the name and remembered having heard it, she would have told me. You are grasping at straws.

Bow does hear a voice when he types on the glass. My voice or that of Lawrence or an intern, saying out loud what he has written. That's how he knows that we got the message.

The voice of the computer allows us to hear what he said even when we can't see it. This part is a good thing. It will help us to prove that it's not "Clever Hans." (If we don't see him type, we can't influence the letters he selects, even if we do have "an answer" in mind.)

The problem with the computer is that it is perishable. Even the chopsticks get destroyed and must be taken away when Bow starts playing inappropriately with them. This is why the glass is better. It's always there, is never taken away, and is always accessible and indestructible.

Bow doesn't always have access to the computer, but he has the glass all the time. The letters are on the other side and he can't hurt them.

As to the starvation issue, I submit that you don't understand the situation. Bow is aware that I won't let him starve. It's part of our relationship. It's a given. To change the relationship into something else would change his behavior towards me.

You seem to think he has no internal resources of his own, and that he has no strength or resolve or cunning, and it is clear that you have never considered the give and take between two beings who live and work together.

He is physically stronger than I am. Why do you imagine that he stays with me? Do you think he has no choices? Do you think he has no bargaining chips? Do you really think that I can renegotiate the contract and dictate terms? Is there someone in your life who is entirely subjected to your will? Have you ever been that powerful?

Every relationship is about a balance of power. Surely, you've experienced this in your own life.

I need Bow's cooperation. To make this work, he has to agree. I can't force him to do anything, and to extent that he does cooperate, it's his choice.

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

At least I've learned something I didn't know about Bow's typing, i.e. that when he types on the glass he hears a human he knows say what was typed. That can easily be copied when he types using the talking computer, by muting the computer, and you, lawrence, or a helper, saying what appears on the computer's screen. Maybe he needs to hear the voice of a human he knows.

Other than that, I don't understand why the talking computer, contrary to the "glass" is not always available, and if it isn't, why can't you make it always available too. If it means moving the computer to another location, well, just do it!

I also do not see the difference betweeb Bow responding to the quetion: "What do you want to eat?", by typing on the "glass', or typing while using the talking computer, (except that typing using the computer is physically more difficult, because of the need to poke a chopstick through small holes, and because the computer's voice is not a voice of any living human that Bow recognizes).

So why make such a big deal of trying to get him to answer the question about what he wants to eat, on the computer, instead of the "glass"? What's the real difference, and how would you be forcing him to do something that is not in the "contract" between you and him, by leaving him the computer to reply on?

When he types on the "lass" a human he knows says what was typed after seeing what letters Bow typed. So you can start by watching what he types with the computer, and saying what you actually see him type, and then switching to saying what appears on the screen of the muted talking computer.

The main problem I see here is preventing Bow from being able to destroy the computer "keeboard". If you put that "keeboard behind a solid sheet of transparent glass, Bow woukd not need to poke through small holes with any chopstick, but the "keyboard" would not know to which letters Bow pointed on the solid sheet of glass. I believe you need to discuss this problem with your computer-guy, who could probably devise a solution that would enable the "keyboard" to sense to which letter Bow points each time. Have a very serious talk with the guy!

I see absolutely no justification in introducing the idea of any "contract", and describe the relation between you and Bow in terms of the relations between two humans. Bow is stronger than you, but he stays with you not because of any "contracts", but because he cannot imagine doing otherwise, like getting up one day and walking to some restaurant, a zoo, or ro Africa! You believe Bow knows you are not going to starve him, because the obligation that you feed him (every day, or more than once a day, depending on his feeding schedule that I know nothing about), based on some "contract" agreed upon between the two of you? I am convinced that Bow knows nothing about "contracts", and simply cannot even imagine living in a world where he is not regularly fed; which never existed in his experience.

I most sincerely hope that the idea of "contracts" (undoubtedly borrowed from your legal training) never enters into any of your attempts to interpret your Bow-project results!

Perhaps you can't force Bow to respond to the question what he wants to eat, by typing on the computer, but you can definitely try to see what happens if you leave him with onlyy the computer on which to respond. You would never know what will happen, unless you experiment with it. You expect he would throw a temper-tantrum, or walk to Africa? Or that he would refuse to ever have anything to do with you after that? I am pretty sure nothing like that is going to happen, and I am very curious to find out what would really happen.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, to put this all back on a more scientific basis, please consider what I wrote earlier in this article about Alex the Parrot. Irene Pepperberg was not able to look inside Alex's vocal apparatus to see how he produced the sound he made when he pronounced English words. Because Pepperberg could not do this, then she cannot be accused of cuing Alex for the phonemes of which the word "green" consist, even if she is thinking in her own mind about the word green.

This is a fortunate byproduct of working with a parrot. In order to get the same kind of situation here with Bow, we are using a computer that sounds out words after Bow has spelled them. When we cannot see what letters he selected, we cannot be accused of cuing him on his typing, even when we do have some idea what he's going to say.

This aspect of the computer interaction is very important for proof.

The decision not to make a hole in the grid for the computer to sit in permanently behind plexiglass was due to financial considerations. The pen system cost a lot of money to build. We cannot afford to rebuild it now or to make alterations that will destroy its structural integrity. We have no funding for that.

If you having trouble imagining that Bow has a theory of mind, then please free to imagine him instead as an AI construct with the ability to run "if-then" scenarios. The ultimate result of running your thought experiment that way should reveal this to you: Bow can choose to do X if I do Y. (This way we don't call it a contract, but it works the same way in logical terms.)

Change the conditions of the experiment, and you will get different results. You can try this on the people you know, too. They too have "if then" mechanisms programmed in their brains.

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

I am by no means a computer-engineer, but it just occurredto me that the computer "keyboard", if protected by a transparent cover, just might be able to sense to which letter one points, if the cover would be in direct contact with the keys, and would be made of some synthetic material pliabke enough to slightly bend to a touch.

However, where budget problems constitute a serious obstacle, I'm afraid I cannot be of any help. And this puts a swift and final end to my feeble attepts to devise any more "thought experiments" concerning Bow! With no further ado, from now on I shall just try to follow the developments you will report about your Bow-project.

In no way would I ever consider Bow a living organism that has a "theory of mind"; nor a machine with AI (Artificial Intelligence). I can think of him only as a living organism with a chimp's "psychic level", which isnot artificial, and is far lower than a human "psychic level", if the term "psychic level" (originally due to Lloyd C. Morgan) means anything to you.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Hi Aya - sorry this is off topic, but I'm just wondering: Do you hit 'share' every time you comment on a hub? I'm asking because in my hubtivity I'm seeing loads of you comments on hubs I haven't visited, while with everyone else I follow, I only see when they publish a new hub, then only see comments if I also comment on the hub. (Feel free to delete this, but it would be nice to know!)

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, the computer we have cannot sense what keys are touched without pressure. There is a hub that explains how that works, I believe. The one about the touchscreen.

As to the theory of mind issue, I think that as a scientist you should keep your mind open until some proof one way or another filters through to you. To decide in advance that a chimpanzee has no theory of mind, while a human does, smacks of religious indoctrination. Look to the evidence.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Paraglider, you are confusing "hubtivity" with "Hubfeed". Yes, I do share every comment, but you're not seeing that on Hubtivity, you are seeing it on Hubfeed.

There are a couple of threads that address this issue:




The consensus seems to be that Hubfeed is for sharing your things and promoting yourself, whereas hubtivity is more objective, because it only shows comments as they happen. So if you don't like people sharing every comment, don't check Hubfeed. Check hubtivity.

That's what I do. I advertise on Hubfeed and look for interesting information on hubtivity.

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

I'm not quite sure what the term "theory of mind" exactly means, but I certainly know what the term "theory" means. And, as far as I am concerned, "theory" is a strictly human concept, that cannot exist at all for non-humans.

If you conclude that I'm keeping a totally closed mind about this issue, you're damn right!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, "theory of mind" has a specific meaning when applied to cognition. I think it might help you to consider this concept in other applications as well. It refers to our ability to recognize that others have a different cognitive state than ourselves, and the capacity to make predictions about what that cognitive state might be. People on the autistic spectrum are said to have deficits in theory of mind. This causes them difficulty in communicating with others even when they are skilled in language use.

Some scientists believe that only humans have a theory of mind. However, in order for this to be a meaningful statement, it has to be capable of being falsified.

Why would you be proud of having a closed mind about any issue involving facts?

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

I have no use for the term "theory of mind" in the general approach to animal behavio, which I adopt. And saying that autists have a deficit in their "theory of mind"is not helpful to me at all.

A "theory" is a hypothetical explanation (supported by at least some evidence) that humans (and humans alone) develop, in order to explain to themselves various

phenomena they encountered (or were told about). Humans alone have developed the need to come up with such explanations, starting with imagining all sorts of supernatural powers, i.e. benevolent, or malevolent gods.

I am not prepared to ever waste any time to consider the possibility that any other living organisms have the need to come up with such explanation. You cannot prove a negative, i.e. that something does not exist. But, if you want to seriously consider the possibility that an ameba, a sponge, a snail, or a chimp, are ever obcessed with the need to understand how they, or the world they inhabit, came into existence, you need evidence for the existence of such obcessions. I've never seen any iota of such evidence; I don't expect to ever see any such evidence; and I'm not prepared to waste any time looking for it.

By the same token, I do not bother with any claims that some exceptional humans have E.S.P. I've never seen a shred of evidence for such claims. And I'm proud of expecting to never see any such evidence, and with refusing to waste any time over such claims.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Hi Aya - thanks for the links :)

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, if you don't want to waste your time on the possibility that other organisms have the need for a theory of mind, and if you think there is no substantial difference between an amoeba and a chimpanzee when it comes to intelligence, then I submit that you are probably wasting your time here. No evidence that I am ever able to present will be sufficient to overcome such a prejudice, and we can both better spend our time on more constructive activities.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Paraglider, you're welcome.

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

I'm sure there is a marked difference between the "psychic level" of an ameba, and a chimp, i.e. that there is a marked difference between the highest qualitative complexity of behavior, or of the required complexity of neural integration, they are capable of. (This is based on Schneirla's School in Behavior, which is in turn, based on a synthesis of the ideas of L.C. Morgan, with the conclusion that all individual traits of all living organisms, develop ontogenetically under inseparable effects of both genes & environment. Morgan's ideas led him to organize the various groups of living organisms on a ladder of separate rungs, based on the highest "psychic level" animals in each group can achieve, with humans, and humans alone, on the top rung. You might not even have heard of that School.)

Other than that, I have no idea what you mean when you state it is possible that other organisms (i.e. non-humans)have a need for a theory of mind. As I explained, I do not believe that non-humans can have theories of anything, because an organism needs to be human in order to be able to develop any theories. The problem you seem to struggle with, whether sub-humans need, or do not need, to have a theory of mind, is totally irrelevant, since they do not have a human "psychic level", which is a basic requirement for developing any theories.

I do not want to become involved in any debates with you about animal (including human) behavior. From now on, I'll just follow your reports on your findings, and your interpretations of those findings, concerning your Bow-project.

I don't even want to inquire how Bow could ever find out, based on his whole life-experience, anything about spies, or the difference between Britishm and non-British, that would lead him to claim, out of his own mind, as you assume, that Katie was a British spy. I have no doubt you couldn't even attempt to answer any questions about something like that, because you do not even know all of his life experience, since you never monitored him 24/7, and you did not keep a fully detailed log of everything he might have experienced during times when you did monitor him. Let me clearly state, however, that I'm more than skeptical about your belief that his story that Katie was a British spy, came from, or could have come from his own mind.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, thank you for your comment.

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

I think, that in my last comment, I made a mess in dealing wirh what Bow communicated about. So let me try again.

You stress cases where Bow communicated about matters that he alone, among those present, knew about, as evidence thart what he communicates comes from his own mind. O.K. I'll concede that in the only 2 relevant, though not terribly impressive, cases you stressed, the communication indeed came from his own mind. This, in now way, provides evidence that everything he communicates about, comes from his mind.

And here, I am disturbed by Bow's communicating about matters, that I believe he knows nothing about, because i cannot see how he could have gained the required knowledge. And you wouldmost probably, not be able to provide me with evidence that somewhere, throughout his whole life-experience, he had the experience that was needed to provide him with that knowledge, because you know nothing about most of his life experiene (never having monitored him 24/7), and you have no detailed reccord of everything he did experience even during the times when you did monitor him, and I doubt you could even keep such a continual reccord, even if you wanted to.

You could, however, always claim, that I cannot refute tge possibility that he did have the required life-experience. And you would be correct, because I hardly know anyting abiut his life-experience,

However, when Bow claims that "Katie is a British spy", I cannot even imagine what kind of a life-experience might have enabled him to know what spy is, or what British means; let alone that he had to know all that in the specific language in which he made the claim.

When Bow stated something to the effect that everyone tries to avoid dying, I cannot even imagine what life- experience might have led him to understand what death is, or that all living organisms are going to die sooner, or later, or what is a live animal, in contrast to a toy that can move in various ways, and make different sounds, or even utter words in a language Bow supposedly understands. How can he know that people are alive, but a talking radio, or dvd are not?

When he supposedly heard the noise the mice were making, what in his life-experience might have enabled him to claim that he heard animals? And what life-experience could have led him to claim that they want to it him; which they most probably did not want to do at all!

Unless you provide me (which you cannot do), with evidence that Bow's life-experience enabled him to understand everything he communicated about (including matters, I cannot believe he can understand), I cannot accept that everything he communicates about, comes from his own mind!

I hope I have finally fully clarified what problems I see with your Bow-project.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, thank you for your comment. The whole point of cross-fostering is that the human and the chimpanzee child have similar life experiences. Until Sword went off to school, she and Bow had the same experiences more or less. After she went to school, I spent more time with Bow than with Sword. Except when I have sitters, I spend twelve hours a day with Bow, and so I actually know more about his life experience than I do my daughter's.

In every instance when you doubt Bow had enough "life experience" to know about something, do you also doubt that Sword would have had that life experience at the same age? If not, then your doubts with regard to Bow are not based on his supposed lack of experience, but are more about his ability to interpret the experience.

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

Indeed, my doubts are about hBow;s ability to interprethis life-experience, and not at all about the amount if experience he's had, the amount of time you spent with him, or the kind of experiences he's had.

If he communicates using language, then his experience with langusge (using it, hearing others use it, being read to, etc) must be of great importance, but by no means is it the only type of experience I have in mind.

I have no idea where Bow might have heard about spies. On the news on the radio? On a dvd of a movie about spies? Or what have you?

He might have learned about spies at a time where you were not present, or he might never have heard about spies> The problem is that, since you deliberately raised him under uncontrolled conditions, you , in most cases haveno way of knowing what he had been exposed to, and what he hadn't.

Does your daughter know anything about spies?Maybe she doesn't, and maybe she does, as a result of hearing about spies in school, where Bow was not present.

My problem here is that in order to seriously accept that whenever Bow communicates, what he "says" comes from his own mind, (for instance, when he commiunicates about his suspicion, or conviction, that Katie is a British spy), I need you to provide me with evidence that he knows what a spy is. And I am sure that in most cases you cannot provide the necessary evidence! Can you bring up any specific incident where you know he was exposed to the word spy???

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, I think that's where you are mistaken. If we can prove that Bow is independently typing, then we don't have to prove anything about his state of mind. It's the same with any independent communication by anyone. If you say something about spies, I don't need to know where you acquired that concept to believe that you used the word "spies."

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

I am not Bow, who may "say" the word spy, as a result of being cued by a human, whose hand Bow uses to help him type, or whose hand holds Bow's hand while Bow types.

Therefore, when Bow types the wird "spy" under such circumstances, I definitekly need to know where, when, and if, he had ever acquired the concept, in order to seriously consider the possibility that when he typed the word, it came from his own mind.

Also, I have no doubt that Bow's ability to interpret his experience, is far more restricted than that of a human, say, your daughter. You could not try it, but I have no doubt that if Bow were to go to school together with your daughter, he would learn very little, if anyting, of what she is learning there!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, the paragraph concerning what Bow said about Katie was background information, and there was no attempt on my part to prove it. I don't even have a video of that exchange embedded, because I am not attempting to prove that. So you can just let that go. There are only two instances of proof here, and they do not depend on Bow's state of mind. They depend on establishing that Eden and Katie could not possibly have come up with what Bow said from their own knowledge.

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

I am well aware of those two special cases that lead you to conclude that what Bow types comes from his own mind. However, as I noted, they are not very impressive cases. For instance, I have no doubt that Bow heard Delight's Chinese name (which was the only name everyone used while she stayed with you), many times over (since she, and your daughter repeatedly played with him). So, I'll concede that he could very well have learned that name, and was able to type it. (In fact, what I find more impressive is that he was able to recognize Delight, your daughter, and himself, in a photo taken several years earlier.)

However, while you are not trying to use the case where Bow typed that "Katie is a British spy", to prove that what he types comes out of his own mind, I am trying to use the case, to show that he is capable of typing (with cueing),things he most probably knows nothing about, and cannot even understand. And this goes to prove that what Bow types need not always come from his own mind!

And, of course, you very often have no way of distinguishing between Bow's typing that comes out of his own mind, and Bow's typing that is being cued by humans. That's where the main problem lies!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, thanks again for your comment and your continued interest in Project Bow.

"Prickly pear" 6 years ago

I have a problem seriously considering that Bow's claim thatKartie was a British spy could have originated in his own mind.

My reason:

I can easily believe that someone might very well have explained to Bow (in a way he could understand, and use),that Katie came from a place called Britain; that all poeple who come from there are called British, and they speak English as she does. I am, however, unable to imagine how anyone could explain what a spy is, in a way that a chimp could understand, and tatcould lead the chimp to claim that a British person he had met is a spy.

Being human, I have, of course, heard about spies on many different occasioins, always in a way that made it clear that spies surreptisiously gather information about a person, a community, a country, in order to use the information to harm the person, community, etc. But if Bo could have understood what a spy is, what could have led him to suspect that Katie was surreptitiously gathering information in order to cause harm? The fact that initially he did not know her? Or, that she didn't speak Hebrew? All your helpers, and visitors who came to see him, were initially new to him, and most did not know Hebrew. The fact that Katie spoke English with an accent he hadn't heard before? Why would he conclude that her accent was "funny"? Didn't Delight, and/or her mother, speak English with strange accent?

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Prickly Pear, thanks for your comment.

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